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Church Repeatedly Targeted Since 2006 Assassination of Priest

03/08/18 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that on March 6, 2018, a lone gunman shot at the Saint Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon, Turkey. Last month, a homemade pipe bomb was placed in the church’s garden, but failed to explode. No injuries were reported with either incident. However, the bomb incident coincided with the 2006 anniversary of the assassination of Fr. Andrea Santoro.

SAT 7 Turk reported, “Members of the church stated that no one was killed or injured because no one was in the church. The police officers who came to the scene reported that they were examining the Mobese cameras and that a man in his 40s fired one hand and fled towards the street where the church was. After the incident, the attacker was taken into custody.”

Saint Maria has been repeatedly targeted since the assassination of Fr. Andrea Santoro in 2006. In 2011, the church was attacked because the church’s cross was illuminated. Shortly following the 2016 coup-attempt, the church was attacked by a group that damaged the building. Five people charged with placing a pipe bomb in the church’s garden last month have been released from custody.

“When we complain to the police, our share is decreasing and attacks are increasing,” a member of the congregation told Birgun following Tuesday’s attack. He added, “The church is being attacked, but the church and church community is seen as guilty. After the assassination of Santoro, there is a period of intense attacks.”

Christians in Turkey are pointing toward negative media attention about churches as a contributing factor in the rise of hate crimes such as the attacks on Saint Maria. In its 2017 annual report, Turkey’s Association of Protestant Churches wrote, “There was an increase in hate speech directed toward Christians in some national media outlets, in local media and in social media… Some churches became the direct subject of a news report and this raised concern in those churches and among their members.”

The report added, “Justice offices need to start official actions against hate crimes and speech, without needing an official compliant to be filed.”

Church members of Saint Maria have repeatedly complained about the lack of authority present to report problems experienced by the congregation. Overall, “they (the authorities) do not want to enter into the church… This has been going on for years,” a member of the community told news outlet T24.

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “While we are thankful that no one from Saint Maria was injured by the gunman, the number of times that the church has been blatantly targeted is extremely worrying. It is not a coincidence that the church has been targeted twice in the last two months. In a country whose constitution provides for the freedom of worship, Saint Maria’s members should not have to live in fear of this kind of persecution.”

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]